Home Health Untreated high cholesterol is a ticking time bomb

Untreated high cholesterol is a ticking time bomb

by Tania Griffin

High cholesterol can be a ticking time bomb if it is not detected and treated with the right medicine and necessary lifestyle changes. A pharmacist explains the dangers of this chronic illness that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and the importance of treatment adherence:

“Many people do not realise they are at risk of high cholesterol because it usually has no symptoms until it has progressed to become more serious, and it is therefore important to have your cholesterol tested regularly,” says pharmacist Themba Muhlarhi of Medipost Pharmacy, South Africa’s first national courier pharmacy. 

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a greasy, waxy substance our cells need for healthy functioning. Our livers produce some cholesterol, but when we eat trans fats and saturated fats from animal sources including eggs, meat and cheese, some people develop hyperlipidaemia, also known as high cholesterol. 

“Some people may have a condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia, a genetic condition reducing the body’s ability to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – which is sometimes referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol – even if the person is extremely careful with their diet,” he explains.

“Children too can have high cholesterol, and should be tested particularly if there is a family risk. If one of your parents has the condition, your chance of inheriting it is 50/50. If you have familial hypercholesterolaemia, any of your children also have a one in two chance of being diagnosed.

“As we get older, it is advisable for everyone to test more regularly, up to once a year from the age of 45 for men and from 55 for women,” Muhlarhi adds.

Risk factors

  • Family history
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Usually more likely as we age

Why is high cholesterol dangerous?

“Excess LDL cholesterol in our blood can become stuck together with calcium, minerals and other substances to form a plaque that lines the arteries. As well as narrowing the arteries, pieces of this plaque can break off and a blood clot could form in an attempt to heal the artery wall,” says Muhlarhi.

If the blood clot becomes so large that it restricts the blood flow or breaks off and lodges elsewhere in the body, it can be very serious and potentially fatal. This is what causes heart attacks and strokes, as well as chest pains known as angina.

Staying well

“When high cholesterol cannot be managed with diet, exercise and other lifestyle modifications, oral medication may be necessary in combination with a healthy lifestyle including a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, with plenty of physical exercise. This can be an opportunity to substantially reduce your risk for associated life-threatening conditions.”

Depending on whether or not a person has already developed cardiovascular disease or a co-existing condition such as diabetes, your treating doctor will prescribe medication to help improve the healthy balance of cholesterol in your body. 

“The most common medication prescribed for high cholesterol are statins. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for any potential drug interactions if you are on any other medications, for example many statins cannot be used with protease inhibitors, which are antiviral medicines. Patients on statins should also avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice, which can interfere with some statins while creasing certain side effects.

“The seriousness of high cholesterol should not be underestimated, even when you are on medication; a significant part of the treatment involves reducing unhealthy foods while increasing exercise to give you the best possible chance of good long-term health,” Muhlarhi concludes.

Medipost Pharmacy offers free delivery of prescribed chronic medication – including treatment for high cholesterol, diabetes and many other conditions – anywhere in South Africa. This service ensures patients can access their medicines easily and confidentially from their home or workplace, making it easier to adhere to a treatment plan. 

Those registered with Medipost Pharmacy’s chronic medication delivery service or self-care medication online shop have free access to telephonic clinical advice from pharmacists and pharmacist’s assistants in their preferred official South African language for advice regarding dosage, possible side effects or interactions and other concerns relating to medication dispensed by Medipost Pharmacy. 

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